Thursday, January 6, 2011

Harsh Criticism - writing tip

I heard today from an old acquaintance who has decided to go back to work on her novel after several years' hiatus. It made me think again about yesterday's question where people in a former student's writers' group spent most of their time arguing about the meaning of terms. To me, it seems they would do better to expend that effort on writing something, rather than playing "I-understand-this-better-than-you-do" games.

Personally, I don’t do harsh criticisms. Taking my own first class was traumatic. I'm a late bloomer. Didn't go to college until I was 35. The writing class was my 41st birthday present to myself. When I walked in, I was the only one in the room over 30, the only one without jeans and sandals, the only one wearing polyester. The attitude of the other students approximated a shark attack. I fought back as best I could with remarks like, "Well, why didn't you like it? What was wrong with it? It's not enough to say it sucks. You have to tell me how to fix it." By the end of the term, I had gained their respect and had two of the pieces I wrote for the class scheduled for publication in national magazines, though I never made the school's literary magazine. That experience stayed with me and when I became a writing teacher, I made it a point not to let students in my classes behave rudely to one another. Good manners were required. Call me old-fashioned. I think it worked.

As far as I'm concerned, the best format for a critique was the one I learned from the International Women's Writing Guild.

After reading the work, these three questions are asked of the person who is to offer advice. (and only these three questions, no "comments" on whether the piece was "good" or "bad" or if anybody "liked" it, need apply.

1. What happened?

2. How did you feel while reading this?

3. If this were your story (and it's not) what would you change in it?

So basically my advice is, if you're in a group that spends a lot of time nit-picking -- find another group. Or start one that will concentrate on something constructive.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. Harsh criticism can never be fruitful. As to classes, I spent three months in an evening writing class. I was the only person in the class of about twenty who actually had something written to criticise, so they had nothing better to do for three months but to criticise my work. As you say, it was all nit-picking. No one every discussed plot, characters, direction, color, tone; nothing but punctuation, and oh yes, I got Grant Ave. in SF wrong (I wrote Grant St.). Maybe it was because I too was wearing polyester.
    At about the same time I enrolled in an evening class in French. Had a gracious French teacher from Paris. Aside from me, no one in the class really knew more than a few words. During the three months everybody talked English. The teacher told us all sorts of interesting stuff about France, Paris and French history, and I came away knowing no more French language than when I went in.
    Since that time, I do my studying at home. Maybe that's not for everyone, but I have a feeling that most of these evening classes are attended by people looking for something to do, perhaps a relationship; who knows? But I don't think they learn much about their chosen subject. Unlike Forrest Gump, that's not all I have to say about that; I could go on and on but I guess I'd better give someone else a chance.